Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Preseason NCAA football rankings unfair, create bias

What if before each kid entered school in kindergarten, a board of teachers assessed their mental ability based on their parental lineage, their performance in preschool and the overall ability of their brain?

Then, from their assessment, the board of teachers places all the smart kids from good families into the best private schools; all the kids that are not so smart, but from good families in mediocre public schools; and the rest of the kids that are from non-BCS families in the remedial schools.

In this situation, the privileged BCS kids would end every year with the best test scores, while it would take a miracle child named Boise State to rise out of the remedial schools with any chance at all.

Unfortunately, preseason polls in college football impose this type of bias on teams each year. The week before games start can be the most important week of the season for some teams because of the unfair predestination preseason polls place on them.

However, these really important polls are based off of minimal proof. No team has played a down yet, but sports writers (not me) think that they can judge how a team is going to do based only on which players return for each team and how well they practice in the spring and the fall.

Consequently, those that are rated at the top of the preseason poll have a comparatively easy route to the national title game next to teams that are rated at the bottom of the Top 25 or even lower.

One of the main reasons that a two-loss LSU team was able to play in the national title game last year –– something no other two-loss team had ever done –– was because they began the season at No. 2 in the preseason polls. This high preseason ranking meant that after each of their losses, LSU didn’t have far to go to get back in one of the top two spots in the polls.

Unfortunately, this same scenario also helped Ohio State get into the national title game last year since they played easy teams in their non-conference schedule and the Big-10, while all the other teams fell around them. If Purdue had played the same schedule as Ohio State with the same results, there’s no way they would have climbed high enough to be in the title game based off of their low preseason ranking.

This is possible because the pollsters operate narrow-mindedly. Instead of reassessing how each team is playing and ranking them on that basis, pollsters often start with last week’s poll and move teams up and down based off whether they win or lose. This way teams rarely move ahead of a team that’s in front of them if both teams win that weekend.

This is the problem that Auburn faced in 2004 when they went undefeated, but were left out of the national championship game in favor of the undefeated USC and Oklahoma teams. At the beginning of the season USC and Oklahoma were rated Nos. 1 and 2 in the AP poll, while Auburn began at No. 17. As the season progressed, Auburn climbed in the polls till they reached No. 3 after the tenth week and then spent the second half of the season stuck behind Oklahoma at No. 2. Pollsters were clearly weary of moving Auburn ahead of an Oklahoma team that kept winning, despite feelings that grew over time that Auburn was the better team, playing in a better conference.

As a result, Auburn was left out of the title game and USC crushed Oklahoma 55-19 for the national championship. Clearly, Oklahoma did not deserve to be in that game, but since they started at No. 2 in the preseason polls the AP voters didn’t feel that they could move them down.

Presently, sports writers are beginning to advocate for waiting till October to rate teams, arguing that it is the fairest thing for the sport. While I think that the same east coast bias that shapes the current preseason polls would remain, I do think this is a better model that college football should adopt immediately. This way the first rankings of the season will actually be based off of play in a game and not in practice.

Sadly, until they make this change, we’ll face the same frightening possibility every season of Ohio State playing in the national championship game.

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  • S

    S. BurchNov 2, 2008 at 6:25 am

    Same thing happended in the 1990 season. Georgia Tech had to share the national championship with Colorado because they were ranked in the preseason where GT was not. Colorado had a loss, a tie and the infamous 5th down win at Missouri. They barely beat Notre Dame in the Orange bowl while GT stomped Nebraska in the Citrus. Georgia Tech was undeated (tie vs UNC) in the ACC which was a very strong that year.

  • P

    P SmithSep 22, 2008 at 11:58 am

    Sorry to nitpick, but you misspelt the name of the Overhyped State University.